A key piece to making PLAZA (Plataforma Logistica de Zaragoza) a successful logistics hub in Spain was the co-location of an educational institute in its midst.
The Zaragoza Logistics Center was created in 2004 by the government of Aragon under the direction of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation and Logistics.
The success of the Zaragoza Logistics Center alliance has spurred MIT to expand the concept globally. The vision was to foster learning and research opportunities around the world because supply chains have become global and complex.
In August, the first class of students began a nine-month masters-degree program in September outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the most recent addition to MIT’s logistics family, which goes by the name of the Supply Chain and Logistics Excellence (SCALE) network.
MIT also has a logistics center in Bogotá, Colombia. School officials last year explored the possibility of establishing a center in Panama, but could not agree with the Panamanian government on its structure and operational parameters.
The CTL is also in talks with Brazil, Bruce Arntzen, the executive director of the supply chain management program at CTL, said in a March webinar about the school’s success producing logistics graduates.
MIT and government officials in these countries hope to create a symbiotic relationship whereby students can directly interact with companies in close proximity to their campus as they apply new techniques and technologies to solve real industry challenges, while companies benefit from the outcomes of their research, as well as getting to know potential graduates they may want to recruit.
“Our feeling is that you can’t be a world-class logistics cluster without a research center and educational activity because in addition to commercial operations you want to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship and new knowledge creation.
“So you become not only a commercial hub, but a knowledge hub for the hemisphere,” CTL Director Yossi Sheffi said in an interview two years ago regarding a potential logistics university in Panama.
There are about 100 students combined across the SCALE network. There is a single application process to join the CTL program through any of the centers, with each center reviewing potential candidates and making invitations, CTL Deputy Director Jim Rice said.
The regional institutions are distinguished by the fact that they attract students from around the world. MIT officials insist that enrollment not be limited to citizens of the host country.
The Zaragoza Logistics Center offers masters and Ph.D. degrees in logistics and supply chain management. It also offers a Ph.D. summer academy that invites top logistics scholars and Ph.D. candidates from around the world for a six-week intensive program covering advanced topics in supply chain management, such as contracts and negotiations, according to Sheffi’s new book on logistics clusters.
CTL officials signed a contract in February 2011 with the Malaysian government to establish a logistics university about 20 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, near Port Klang.
Malaysia has a growing economy and is a major manufacturing and trade center in Southeast Asia. Its focus will be on logistics in the Asia-Pacific region, as it relates to both traditional exports and now local distribution as countries develop the wealth to consume domestic production, Mohendra Singh, director of the Malaysia Institute, said in a Malaysian radio interview posted on CTL’s Website.
The first class of 20 students is the most ever for a first-year SCALE program. The Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation has already organized two sets of recruiting meetings with corporations and one student had a job offer by late September, according to CTL Communications Director Tara Faulkner.
Faculty members from MIT oversee each center, but each is managed and run by local faculty recruited and trained by the CTL.
The CTL installs a director and helps hire the instructors at the centers to get the program off the ground, with the eventual goal of turning over administration of the logistics university to local partners after several years.
The new staff members go to Boston for three to six months to become indoctrinated in the MIT approach to education and research.
MIT says the SCALE network pools the resources of all four centers and encourages collaboration.
The CTL is helping its sister organization in Malaysia build industry relations by reaching out to partner companies that have operations in Malaysia to let them know a new research center is available to help support their regional needs, Rice said.
CTL faculty members periodically visit the overseas campuses to help teach, visit corporate sponsors and mentor colleagues.
Each year, students from the overseas branches come to MIT for three weeks where they outline their thesis projects in poster sessions. They also go to Zaragoza for a week to participate in mixed team simulations, interactive leadership sessions and exercises designed to expose them to different types of people and cultures they will deal with in their professional life in multinational corporations, MIT officials say.
The Malaysian Institute for Supply Chain Innovation next year will offer a doctorate degree and soon start a part-time master’s program, as well as short courses for continuing development of executives, Singh said.
It will also host conferences and seminars to share knowledge with the logistics community.
The MIT Center typically engages shippers and carriers through its outreach program.
Companies that want the CTL’s help typically sponsor a graduate student’s thesis project. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to quickly get a fresh look at a problem facing a business, Rice said.
Some companies go a step further and fund long-term research projects.
Strategic partners — like Intel, Procter & Gamble, BASF and UPS — are involved in all aspects of the MIT Center’s activities, taking advantage of education programs, research, networking opportunities and getting first-hand access to students through their projects, he said.